Bellator’s debut show on Spike TV ended up as an almost flawless performance with both Michael Chandler and Pat Curran retaining their titles, while Renato “Babalu” Sobral went down in defeat.
Michael Chandler vs. Rick Hawn – Bellator lightweight title fight
There is little doubt after Thursday night that Michael Chandler has secured his spot as one of the best lightweights in the world as he capped off Bellator’s debut show on Spike TV with a one-sided pounding of former Olympian Rick Hawn.
Chandler was defending the lightweight title for the first time since submitting former champion Eddie Alvarez in a “Fight of the Year” candidate back in 2011. In the headline fight on Thursday, all eyes were on Chandler as he looked to prove he’s not only one of the best 155lb fighters in the world, but that his win over Alvarez was no fluke.
Facing former welterweight Rick Hawn, Chandler had his hands full but you wouldn’t know that by how the fight went down.
Chandler mixed up his striking and wrestling in a beautifully brutal ballet of skill and precision first attacking Hawn with punches and then dumping on the mat with a slam. In the second round, Chandler just fed Hawn more of the same kind of punishment.
A takedown followed up by an aggressive turn to take Hawn’s back, and quickly Chandler was searching for an opening to lock up a rear naked choke. It didn’t take long for his forearm to find a home under Hawn’s chin.
Chandler wrenched up on the hold as Hawn fell backwards to the canvas and with a painful grimace on his face, he tapped out, handing the Bellator champion his eleventh win in eleven fights.
“If you ain’t moving forward, you’re moving backwards, that’s me,” Chandler said after the fight about his progression.
The only problem Chandler has now is finding competition at lightweight in Bellator. The next tournament final pits Marcin Held (who Chandler submitted in the first round back in 2011) against former WEC fighter Dave Jansen, and while both are solid fighters, it’s doubtful either are the kind of top ten competition Chandler deserves. It now falls into Bellator’s court to go out and either find and sign, or develop challengers for Chandler or they could soon see their latest lightweight champion embroiled in a battle to exit the promotion the same way Eddie Alvarez is currently trying to do.
Mikhail Zayats vs. Renato “Babalu” Sobral
Kicking off the Bellator light heavyweight tournament, former UFC and Strikeforce contender Renato “Babalu” Sobral looked to make one more run at a major title, but his trip took a staggering detour facing Russian Mikhail Zayats.
With only one fight in the last two years after suffering a major injury in a snowboarding accident, Sobral wanted to make an impact joining Bellator in 2013. Former M-1 fighter Mikhail Zayats had alternate plans.
The early part of the fight was fairly lackluster with both competitors working from within the clinch, with neither getting an upper hand. Finally separated and throwing strikes on the feet, Zayats uncorked a spinning backfist that clipped Babalu, sending him back towards the cage.
Knowing that his opponent was stunned, Zayats attacked and put together a quick barrage of strikes with a one well timed left getting through, sending Sobral to the canvas. Zayats followed up with a bevy of hammer fists until the referee came in for the save.
Zayats moves on in the Bellator light heavyweight tournament, while many wonder if this is the end of the road for Renato “Babalu” Sobral. Over the years, Sobral has always faced the best of the best, and win, lose or draw he’s always put up a valiant effort. Unfortunately, Babalu’s best days appear behind him at this stage of the game.
Pat Curran vs. Patricio Pitbull – Bellator featherweight title fight
The first fight to air on Spike TV Thursday night featured featherweight champion Pat Curran facing off with Patricio “Pitbull” Freire in a bout many months in the making. Both Curran and Pitbull were forced to sit out for extended periods of time due to injury, but you’d hardly know either of them missed any action with the performances showcased in the cage.
The fighters started out tentatively, which was somewhat surprising given both fighter’s tendency to attack early and often. Once they settled into a rhythm, Pitbull started to become the aggressor while Curran was content in his counter punching style.
Through the first three rounds neither fighter put together much in the way of serious combinations outside of a few quick strikes from Pitbull that probably stole him a round or two. As the fight wore on however, Curran’s fortune changed because the 4th and 5th rounds will often separate champion from challenger.
Curran’s power started to show as he established a quick double jab that snapped Pitbull’s head back, and followed that up with a jaw-rattling uppercut. Pitbull tried his best to unleash a flurry with seconds left to go in the fight, but couldn’t catch Curran with anything to put him away.
When the judges came back the scores resulted in a split decision, but Pat Curran received two scorecards in his favor as he retained his Bellator featherweight title. Curran stood proud after the victory, and now he’ll look to the future where he will likely face Daniel Straus later this year. With the new Bellator championship rematch clause in place, Patricio Pitbull could also quickly jump back in the title picture after coming within one round on a scorecard from taking home the gold.
One additional bonus fight also made it to air with newcomer Jacob Noe putting former UFC fighter Seth Petruzelli away with strikes in the first round to advance to the next round of the Bellator light heavyweight tournament. Earlier in the night, Emanuel Newton also advanced and will face the winner of next week’s bout between “King Mo” Lawal and Przemyslaw Mysiala.
Production and Sponsor Differences in Bellator Debut Show
Beyond the fights that took place in the cage, Bellator will also be judged based on how they came across on television for their first broadcast on Spike, and overall it was a flawless performance.
Previously, Bellator cards were only available on television with high definition via EPIX, and not MTV2. Now with their shows on Spike TV, Bellator has the benefit of HD, and it does make a crystal clear difference when watching the fights. A well lit cage with crisp graphics helped Bellator look better on TV, and an additional bonus was the sound set up with microphones placed strategically to amplify the thud of each strike being landed in the cage.
Sponsorships were also a big difference for this first Bellator show on Spike with Miller Lite being the major label displayed in the middle of the cage. Beer sponsorships are one of the gold standards when it comes to sports advertising, and Miller Lite is a big win for Bellator as they move forward in 2013.
In addition to Miller Lite, Bellator’s first show also featured ads from Dave and Buster’s as well as the new comedy “Movie 43?. It also appears that fast food chain Carl’s Jr. was a major contributor with their commercial shown multiple times during the two-hour broadcast.
The broadcast team did a good job of describing the action without being distracting, and if there was one uncomfortable or unnecessary part of the show, it was the odd placement of Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney, who stepped in the cage after every fight and took questions from commentator Jimmy Smith.
Rebney’s presence in the cage was fine, but there didn’t seem to be any reason why he would be answering questions when the fighters were the more important ones to showcase at the time. Not to mention, Rebney is a rather tall man, and seeing him tower over both the lightweight and featherweight champion didn’t look good on TV.
Outside of that one glaring issue, Bellator should be proud of the product they put on TV for the first time on Spike. Next week they will look to do it all over again as “King” Mo Lawal makes his long awaited Bellator debut, while Ben Askren defends his welterweight title against Karl Amoussou in the main event.